Voters Favor Student Life Fee, But Turnout is `Disappointing'By Jeremy Hylton
Less than one in every six students voted in the student life fee referendum -- a result that many Undergraduate Association officials described as disappointing. Only 626 students cast ballots on April 23 and 24.
More than 75 percent of the voters, representing about one in every 10 undergraduates, voted yes on the first referendum question: "Should students, rather than the administration, set the overall amount designated for student activities?"
Students also supported using the student life fee, which would be collected from all full-time undergraduates, to fund the Course Evaluation Guide and to eliminate the need for a $20 athletic services fee.
"I am overjoyed at the results of the referendum," said J. Paul Kirby '92, UA vice president. "I am unsure of what the turnout means." Kirby and UA President Stacy E. McGeever '93 have spearheaded the student life fee proposal.
McGeever sees the referendum results as a mandate to enact the fee. "General sentiment is very strong. As a result, I don't see a problem with going forward with this general proposal," she said.
McGeever hopes to present a plan to enact the fee within the next two weeks and to hold a second referendum before the end of the semester to set the amount of the fee for next year. "We have spoken in terms of a time scale of a week and a half or so. I don't know if we're going to have a second referendum definitely or not, though," she said.
Kirby and Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, discussed the results of the referendum yesterday. According to Kirby, "Smith will be telling the president, provost, and others what happened with the referendum and asking them how we will go forward."
Students also voted to have "a board of knowledgeable people, some selected by the undergraduate student body and some by the UAC," set the student life fee. The UA Financial Board would still control the distribution of the funds.
Support for the special board was weak, however. Forty percent of the voters favored it, but two other proposals each received about a quarter of the votes cast. The defeated proposals were to have either the entire student body or the UAC would set the fee.
"I think with the turnout so exceptionally low, the data is only good as a guide, and any further action on this would have to be brought to the UAC," said David J. Kessler '94, the incoming UA vice president. Kessler opposed the student life fee throughout his campaign for UAVP, but reversed his position at the last UAC meeting.
Next House UAC Representative Jonathan J. Lee '93 agreed. "I don't know how seriously this can be taken as a campus-wide referendum because of the low turnout," he said.
"I just thought [the results] were too low to be much of an indicator," said Steven A. Luperchio '95, a member of the election commission.
Kirby was puzzled by the low voter turnout. "We were there for two days. We made pretty significant attempts to get pamphlets in everybody's mailboxes," he said. "I don't think that a reasonably aware person could have wandered through MIT and not noticed there was a referendum."
Lee, however, attributed the low voter turnout to poor publicity. "It might have been nice for the sponsors of this particular referendum to perhaps have taken a few further steps -- such as organizing dorm-to-dorm and house-to-house sessions to tell exactly what this was about," he said. Lee noted several other publicity problems with the referendum.
Regardless of the voter turnout, many undergraduates support student control over activities funding, according to UA Secretary General Anne S. Tsao '94. She discussed the proposal with small groups before the referendum. "It's obvious that the majority of students think there should be student control over the student life fee," she concluded.
McGeever felt the vote was a clear indication of student support. "I think [the fact] that 78.5 percent of the people who voted said yes for question one points to a very strong student tendency towards wanting to control a portion of their own tuition money," McGeever said. "It is a very strong indication to the UA that such a program should be implemented."
Kessler agreed that many students support the plan. "It does look positive and we have a lot of work cut out for us if we want to move this forward," he said.
Plans have been rushed
Both Kessler and Lee, however, felt that the plans to implement the student life fee have been rushed. At a UAC meeting, Lee moved to hold the referendum next week, when registration materials are distributed, but the motion was voted down.
"People are not being patient enough in this. It's obviously not enough to go straight into the fee," Kessler said. "A lot of really good work has been put into this idea and it would be a shame to ruin all that effort by not putting enough time into that last 10 percent."
"I think it would have been nice to have a few more weeks of discussion on the campus-wide scale. I think it would have been nice, but I don't think it was horrible that we didn't," McGeever explained.
Kirby explained that the referendum came so quickly because the issue has been discussed with fervor this semester. "We have been talking about it very intensely; it's been a really dense four months," he said.
Kirby also noted, "What people voted on was a very simple question."
"The most important thing we can do with the results is to use them as a motivator to find out what people think," McGeever said. "I'm very interested in finding out why people voted the way they did."
The first question, whether students should control funding for activities, received 475 "yes" votes and 130 "no" votes.
The second question concerned what group would set the dollar amount of the fee. The three options were: by student body referendum, 165 votes; by the UAC, with an option for the students to reject the proposal by referendum, 178 votes; and by a board selected by the UAC and through student body elections, 250 votes. Because the first round votes proved inconclusive, the third option was selected under the preferential balloting system, ultimately receiving 297 votes.
The third question asked whether an athletic services fee should be paid for out of the student life fee, eliminating athletic cards. Voters gave the question 393 "yes" votes and 200 "no" votes.
On the fourth question, 361 students supported funding the Course Evaluation Guide from the student life fee, and 167 students voted against the proposal.